Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
The stoning of Stephen is almost like a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus, and indeed Jesus Himself was very present at this moment, looking down from heaven, ready to take action. But the people only reaffirm their previous decision to reject Jesus Christ. They cry out like the crowds shouting, “Crucify!” before Jesus was sent to the cross. With one accord they make their choice and take Stephen out of the city, as Christ was led outside the city to Calvary. And with Stephen so full of the Holy Ghost, it is like they throw their stones at God Himself, desiring to be rid of Him, wanting Him to stop convicting and challenging their ways and their desires.
Stephen even echoes the words of Jesus that He spoke from the cross, asking God to receive his spirit and asking for forgiveness for his own murderers. This was a second chance for those who put Jesus on the cross to have a change of heart, to realize the error of their ways, to receive salvation, to accept their Messiah after receiving the witness of Stephen. But in the end, they repeated exactly what they’d done the first time.
The death of Christ had opened the way to God, rending the veil and pouring out the cleansing blood to wash away the sins of men. Stephen’s death, however, closed a door as the nation of Israel as a whole rejected Jesus as their King. But it also cleared the path for the Gospel to go to the Gentiles and for a man who consented to the killing of Stephen to be at the forefront of the worldwide spread of Christianity. And by God’s grace, all people, even those Jews who rejected Jesus and Stephen’s witness, have a chance to receive Christ as Savior and live a life, like Stephen, so full of the Spirit of God.
The truth is, Stephen didn’t deserve to die, just as Jesus didn’t. And the truth is, Saul didn’t deserve a chance to receive Christ after what he’d done to oppose Him. And the Jews didn’t deserve a second chance at redemption. And the Gentiles didn’t deserve to receive the Gospel and to have a relationship with God. The truth is, we are all sinners who deserve to die for our sins. We don’t deserve a Savior. We don’t deserve forgiveness. We don’t deserve our second, third, and fourth chances. We don’t deserve the grace of God. But no matter how much evil there is in men, there will always be love and goodness in God that overcomes all of that.